In this new segment called “3rd Down and Four,” three passionate sports fans tackle four questions about our beloved Detroit Lions. As the sports season continues to ramp up be sure to check back for other segments focusing in on both the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons. This inaugural segment is ushered in by three Michigan natives: Jason Smith, Patrick Smith and Paul Buck.
The Lions have performed surprisingly well in the several games heading into the bye week despite not having Matthew Stafford at the helm. What can a healthy Stafford add to this 1-5 squad?
Jason Smith: For the sake of a lot of fans, he better be able to live up to the ridiculous amount of hype he’s been given. Honestly, I don’t think the Lions would be any better than they are now had he played in the first six games. They may have beaten Chicago, but they were going lose to Philly, Green Bay, Minnesota, and the Giants with or without. I honestly don’t think he’s that good of a QB. He showed me nothing last year. And I’m sorry, but looking great in practice against the Lions defense, where cameras are not allowed, doesn’t impress me. I don’t care about his swagger or arm strength. If he can add accuracy and poise to his game, then maybe he can make it happen.
Patrick Smith: I’ve had the toughest time with this question, trying to combine my excitement and homerism with the reality that we haven’t seen anything from Stafford. Or, at least what we’ve seen is decidedly mixed, leaning a little toward the bad. That much-discussed game against the Cleveland Browns showed us a lot; natural ability, leadership, and sure … courage (as hesitant as I am to throw that word around when discussing men who play a game for millions of dollars). Stafford made some amazing throws in that game, throws most quarterbacks couldn’t make, and he showed toughness getting up from that shoulder injury, but a last second win against the Cleveland Browns, reliant upon a good but timely pass interference call, does not outweigh a 61.9 career passer rating, 20 interceptions to 13 TDs with a 54 percent completion rate. Long term it’s good for the Lions for Stafford to be healthy and starting and I think Matt will have a good career, but this year the problem has not been QB play (ranked 7th in passing yards so far) and I think #9 ends up being a little bit worse in the final ten than Shaun Hill was in the first six.
Paul Buck: A healthy Matthew Stafford, our young and talented quarterback, is the key for the Lions to start winning more games. His strong throwing arm is going to be a heavy asset when connecting with his favorite target, Calvin Johnson, for the majority of his touchdowns. He will succeed at what we have all been waiting for and breakout as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. If he can stay healthy and on the field, look for the Lions to finish strong this season and have many more positive seasons to follow.
As we patiently wait an extra week, what player made the greatest impression on you thus far and how has he made such an enormous impact?
JS: This is easy: Ndamukong Suh. He plays like a five-year veteran. For all the so-called swagger that Stafford has, Suh does have it. His play on the line is a breath of fresh air and it reminds me of Chris Spielman, except he’s at defensive end. He’s agile, quick, and aggressive. Two things that have been missing from this team for a decade. He’s worth the money and truthfully, just as important, if not more so, than Stafford is.
PS: Kyle Vanden Bosch, without hesitation. His stats aren’t gaudy, but Vanden Bosch has been the best player on the Lions D and it’s obvious just from watching how much of an impact his leadership and intensity has had. Vanden Bosch has been to the Lions what Michael Strahan was to the Giants, a talented playmaker who helps guide a young and hyper-skilled D-line with his experience and intelligence.
PB: Shaun Hill, backup quarterback to Stafford, has made the greatest impact on this Lions team thus far. I realize the Lions are only 1-5, but he’s done everything in his power as a backup to keep pushing the Lions after losing Stafford. He’s kept us in all 6 of our games and captured us an early victory to build off of. Hill’s numbers have been great so far this season for a guy who thought he was just going to be watching the game from the sideline and assist in maturing Matthew Stafford as the Lions starting quarterback. Unfortunately, last week he sustained a forearm injury which will now sideline him for a few weeks, but he did an excellent job filling in as the Lions starting quarterback and is ready to rally around Stafford to step back in and take the Lions to the next level.
While some things have gone well, there’s certainly room for improvement in many facets. What has been the most glaring disappointment to you thus far? Which players in particular have underwhelmed in your opinion?
JS: Not much can go well when you’re 1-5. I don’t care about how much “effort” you put in a game, and how you “don’t quit.” If you don’t win, then your effort isn’t good enough. Cleveland went to New Orleans and won. St. Louis has knocked off Washington and Seattle. Kansas City, Tampa, and Oakland have put up big wins on the road. Meanwhile, the Lions act as if not getting beat by 30 on the road is a win. The improvement needs to come from their mind state. No more dumb-ass penalties. No more mental lapses. No more big plays. Their coaching staff is where the blame rests. There have been instances where this team was not prepared to play. Other instances, the coaches, specifically Schwartz, have made ridiculously dumb decisions (not using the TO in Minnesota, punting in Green Bay down 2, the thinking you’re fooling people by acting like Stafford wasn’t injured, etc.). The biggest disappointment has come from the coaching staff. A silver medal goes to the Linebackers, who appear to be made of glass.
PS: This is just as obvious to me as #2; it’s Backus and friends. The offensive line is the cold-sore on a beautiful girl’s lip. Okay, the O-line is the cold sore on an already ugly girl’s lip, but still. Even though nothing save Calvin and the D-line, has been great on this team, the offensive line is just exceptionally wretched. Jahvid Best has shown in glimpses the athletic ability and skill we thought he had, but he gets no opportunities in space. Watch the few decent runs Best and even the recently returned Kevin Smith have had, and you’ll see enough talent to have at least a mediocre run game. A team with the seventh best passing game should not be dead last in rushing yards, especially with Best carrying the ball. Add to that two QBs lost to injury in six games, major changes better be coming this offseason or Stafford will never make it through a season.
PB: My most glaring disappointment is the Lions overall record. We’ve played well enough to have three or four wins. They’ve been in every game down to the wire thus far this year. If the Lions could have had a couple plays go their way they would have a much better record. The player who underwhelms me the most this season is Jahvid Best. We traded to get the pick at the end of the first round for him and he really hasn’t shown us too much. Lately he has been bothered by turf toe, so hopefully after the bye week we can get him going. Our offensive line also has been pretty disappointing. I thought we made some good moves to help improve it from last year and players are getting more experience, but we still are not protecting the quarterback well enough. We have to buy him more time to throw and to give the receivers time to get down field and get open.
As we look into the future, what do you see from this team over the course of the final 10 games following their bye? Will there be better days or should we expect more of the same?
JS: Considering whom the Lions have in front of them, if this team finishes this season 5-11, which I predicted in Real Detroit Weekly, it would be a miracle. Anyone thinking Stafford is going to be the new Brett Favre (in terms of the brutal picks he throws, he might be) or Dan Marino, you’re reaching. The final 10 games include the Jets (Home), The Patriots (Thanksgiving), The Dolphins (Road), Tampa (Road), plus one more go-round w/CHI, GB, and MIN. Yikes! The Defense needs to vastly improve (which the secondary has shown signs of life, and Stefan Logan could finally be the return man this team has needed for years). Also, the Lions have one shot to end that road-losing streak: at Buffalo next week. Lose that game, and that record could get really nasty. The Bills are awful. 2008 Lions Awful, yet they had a 14-point lead in Baltimore and scored 34 points. The Lions have a lot of work to do, and if they want a-holes like me to buy into this “improvement” nonsense they are talking about, do something big and WIN some games. To quote Little Brother: “Do you really wanna win, or just look good losing?”
PS: Things are getting better, and that includes the schedule. Besides the Jets and Pats, the last 10 games are all winnable, and I bet the Lions go .500 the rest of the way finishing at 6-10. It was just weird scheduling for the Lions to play three of their first six games on the road against division foes, and still they should have won in Green Bay and in Chicago. I think they sweep their home games against the Packers, Bears and Vikings. Stafford will make some strides coupled with some ugly interceptions that cost the Lions a win or two. Finishing 5-5 should be a nice way to lead into a wild card berth next year.
PB: In the final 10 games of the regular season I think we are going to see a Lions team who are still contenders in every game and will come away with a few more victories. Having a healthy Stafford and Best will be key in turning things around. Our division is currently wide open so the Lions actually have something to play for, but any kind of improvement is respectable after the last couple of seasons they’ve had. Jim Schwartz really has our team improving each week and I think he’s doing a great job as the head coach. It’s imperative that we break the streak of road loses as soon as we can because we have to be able to win on the road in order to compete.